TRAVEL NEWS – May 19, 2021: One vaccine dose is definitely better than none. But is it enough to make someone travel? That is one of the most important questions that EU countries will have to decide. The EU will provide details of the 'Digital Green Pass' have to agree so that people can travel freely again in the EU.
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Many factors that come into play
The answer is complicated by the fact that no vaccine is 100 percent effective at protecting against COVID-19, and the science isn't simple.
There are currently four vaccines approved for use in the EU, and regulatory decisions on two more are reportedly not far off. How well each vaccine protects against disease and transmission varies.
In addition, some countries administer two-dose vaccines at different intervals – affecting efficacy – while one vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, requires only one dose.
Add to that the issue of mixing vaccines: some countries, such as Germany en France, have chosen to offer an mRNA vaccine to young adults who have already received their first dose of Oxford/AstraZeneca's adenovirus shot.
Meanwhile, some EU states are using vaccines that the European Medicines Agency has not yet approved, including an out China which is said to have lower efficacy than EU-approved injections.
What researchers could look at are countries, including Israel and the UK, that have now vaccinated much of their adult populations with at least one dose. Field evidence adds valuable information to the debate about the effectiveness of some of these approved vaccines, especially after the first injection.
The challenge is that countries will soon want clarity. And some, including Croatia, calling for a comprehensive “green passport” that works for all EU countries, as opposed to a technical solution that countries can choose or not want to use.
A dose or two?
Fortunately, things seem to be moving forward. One shot of a corona vaccine should soon be enough to get the corona pass that should make traveling in the European Union easier. The EU countries and the European Parliament agree on this, various sources say (1)(2).
For a large part of The Netherlands en Belgium this is a very welcome decision. A large part of the population does not receive the first injection until the end of July. With the summer holidays approaching, the possibility to travel with only one shot is of great importance for this group.
A traveler is with such a corona passport incidentally, not yet 100 percent guaranteed free access to all EU Member States. For example, a country can ask travelers who have only received one of the two shots on arrival to undergo a corona test or to go into quarantine.
It is still unclear whether EU member states actually intend to do so. What is clear is that the holiday countries in particular prefer to have as few obstacles as possible for tourists. The economic interests are simply too great for that.
Approved vs. not approved
The European Commission has also said that EU countries will have the option to extend the acceptance of a vaccination certificate to travelers who receive other vaccines, but all vaccines approved by the EU are automatically eligible.
For people wishing to visit the EU from third countries administering various vaccines not approved by the EU, the current proposal requires travelers to request permission from the EU country of destination to accept their vaccination and provide all necessary information, including a reliable vaccination certificate. The EU country would then have to assess whether reliable evidence has been provided and decide whether to issue a certificate. However, all this is still under discussion in the negotiations between Parliament and the Member States.
What about mutations?
Some vaccines seem more effective than others at neutralizing variants of concern. South Africa for example, stopped using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after it had limited efficacy against the healthcare variant that is dominant in that country. It switched to the Johnson & Johnson shot, which showed 57 percent efficacy in a study in South Africa, suggesting a stronger response to that strain.
The Indian variant has recently become a major concern among policy makers, especially in the UK, where infections are rising rapidly. More than 2.300 cases were confirmed on Friday. Early data on the effectiveness of EU-approved vaccines against the Indian variant are promising, but more data and research is needed.